Tales of Contact and Change: Traditional Stories of Immigration
Most of us living in the Upper Midwest are descendants of immigrants or have been immigrants ourselves. During the nineteenth century, many new residents to this region came from Europe, especially German-speaking Europe. Once in their new homeland, they immediately encountered people who not only spoke different languages but also had different cultures and traditions. These might have included Yankees from the East Coast, immigrants from elsewhere in Europe (especially Scandinavia, but also Southern and Eastern Europe), and Native Americans, not to mention other German-speakers from European regions different from their own. In this century, Wisconsin and neighboring states are still a crossroads for people of different backgrounds, but now the new immigrants come from Asia, Mexico, Central and South America, Africa, Bosnia, Croatia, or Albania. And in the ever changing flow of global migration, German-speaking countries in Europe have become a destination for immigrants in this century.
No matter where they came from and when they moved, immigration was an unparalleled, life-changing experience that had to be talked about and was processed in a multitude of different forms of narrative. We have all heard stories of immigration told in letters, journals, or articles and retold in family stories, jokes, and songs. Today many immigrants also use video and audio tape to share their experiences. In a more subtle way, immigrants alter traditional tales by adding elements of a new neighbor’s tradition to the story line or by using expressions from a different language. On the other side of the coin of contact, the receiving society adds elements from immigrants’ cultures and languages to its own narratives.
In all these stories, however, we find common themes. “Tales of Contact and Change” is bringing scholars and storytellers together to jointly explore these themes and to listen to the fascinating, traditional often personal and funny stories that weave the narrative fabric of our multicultural, global society.
Selected papers from the conference
Theresa Schenck, University of Wisconsin–Madison: "Memories of Contact: A Discussion of the Earliest Recorded Memories of Contact Among the Ojibwe and the Cree"
Jack Zipes, University of Minnesota: "To Be or Not To Be Eaten: The Survival of Traditional Storytelling"